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Authors: Elle Kennedy

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BOOK: Good Girl Complex
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I snicker. “Goats, plural? You mean it wasn’t just the one?”

“Nah, it was only one goat. But one time, I did steal a goldfish for my friend Alana.”

“Awesome. I’m friends with a thief.” I poke him in the side. “I need to hear the goldfish story, please.”

He winks. “Oh, it’s a good one.”

We talk for so long, the two of us around the dwindling fire, that I don’t notice the black night turn to gray early morning until
Evan and Bonnie come strolling toward us looking rather pleased with themselves. By then I realize I have a dozen texts from Preston wondering what the hell happened to me. Oops.

“Take my number,” Cooper says in a rough voice. “Text me when you get to campus so I know you made it back safe.”

Despite the warning alarms in my head, I punch his number into my phone.

No big deal
, I assure that disapproving side of me. It’ll just be one text when I get home, then I’ll delete the number. Because as fun as it was to joke about our impending friendship, I know it’s not a good idea. If I’ve learned one thing from rom coms, it’s that you are not allowed to be friends with someone you’re attracted to. The attraction itself is harmless. We’re human beings and life can last years. We’re bound to feel physical attraction for someone other than our significant other. But anyone who places themselves directly in the path of temptation is only asking for trouble.

So when Bonnie and I stumble out of an Uber and climb up to our dorm, I’m fully prepared to purge Cooper Hartley from my phone. I send a solitary text:
Home safe!
Then I click on his number and hover my finger over the word
DELETE
.

Before I can press it, a message from him pops up.

Cooper:
That was fun. Let’s do it again sometime?

I bite my lip, staring at the invitation. The memory of his dark eyes gleaming in the firelight, of his broad shoulders and muscular arms, jumpstarts my tired brain and tickles that spot between my legs.

Delete him
, a strict voice orders.

I click on the chat thread. Maybe a friendship with this guy is a terrible idea, but I can’t help myself. I cave.

Me:
I’ll bring donuts.

CHAPTER SEVEN

MACKENZIE

Only two weeks into the semester and I’m already over it. It wouldn’t be so bad if I could dig into some business and finance courses. Marketing and mass communications law. Even some basic web coding. Instead, I’m stuck in a lecture hall staring at an illustration of some hairy, naked pre-human ape-man that, frankly, varies little from the current iteration sitting three rows over.

Freshman gen-eds are bullshit. Even psychology or sociology could have had some application to my work, but those courses were full. So I got stuck in anthropology, which so far today has been ten minutes of swarthy protohuman slides and forty minutes of arguments over evolution. None of which benefits my bank account. My parents pushed college on me, but I was hoping I could at least be productive while I was here. Optimizing
BoyfriendFails
and its sister site, targeting keywords, looking at ad impressions. Instead, I’m taking notes because our professor is one of those
an A is perfection, so no one is getting an A in this class
assholes. And if I’m forced to entertain this exhaustive waste of time, I’m not going to walk around with a C average.

It isn’t until I step outside into the blazing sunshine that I realize I can’t feel my fingertips. The lecture hall was freezing. I head over to the student union for a coffee and sit on a hot concrete bench under
a magnolia tree to thaw out. I’m supposed to meet Preston in thirty minutes, so I still have some time to kill.

I sip my coffee and scroll through some business emails, forcing myself not to dwell on the fact that I haven’t heard from Cooper yet today.

And I say
yet
, because he’s messaged me every day since Saturday night. So I know I’ll hear from him at some point today, it’s only a matter of when. The first time he texted, I’d hesitated to open the message, afraid a picture of his junk might pop up on the screen. Or maybe hopeful it would? I’ve never been one for dick pics, but—

But nothing!
a sharp voice shouts in my head.

Right. There’s no
but
. I don’t want to see Cooper Hartley’s penis. Period, end of sentence. I mean, why would I want to see the penis of the hot, tattooed bad boy I stayed up an entire night talking to? That’s just ludicrous.

Welp, I’m not cold anymore. I’m burning up now.

I need a distraction. ASAP.

When my mom’s number lights up the screen, I think about ignoring the call, because that’s definitely not the distraction I’d hoped for. But past experience has taught me that ignoring her only encourages her to send increasingly demanding texts to answer her. Then calls to the FBI insisting I’ve been kidnapped for ransom.

“Hi, Mom,” I answer, hoping she can’t hear my lack of enthusiasm.

“Mackenzie, sweetheart, hello.”

There’s a long pause, during which I can’t tell if she’s distracted or waiting for me to say something.
You called me, Mom
.

“What’s up?” I ask to get the ball rolling.

“I wanted to check in. You promised to call after you got settled, but we haven’t heard from you.”

Ugh. She always does this. Turns everything into a guilt trip. “I called the house last weekend, but Stacey said you were out, or busy or something.”

I spend more time on the phone with my mother’s personal assistant than I do with anyone in the family.

“Yes, well, I have a lot on my plate at the moment. The historical society is sponsoring a new exhibit at the State House, and we’re already planning the fall gala fundraiser for the children’s hospital. Still, persistence is everything, Mackenzie. You know that. You should have called again later that day.”

Of course. My mother has a personal staff and still can’t manage to return a call to her only child, but sure, that’s my fault. Ah well. It’s something I’ve learned to live with. Annabeth Cabot simply can’t be wrong about anything. I inherited that trait, at least when it comes to pointless arguments about donuts or whatnot. Those, I must always win. But unlike my mom, I’m fully capable of admitting when I’ve made a mistake.

“How is school?” she inquires. “Do you like your professors? Are you finding your classes challenging?”

“School’s great.”

Lie.

“My professors are so engaging, and the course content is really interesting so far.”

Lie. Lie.

“I love it here.”

Lie.

But there’s nothing to gain from telling her the truth. That half the professors seem to regard teaching freshmen as an act of spite, and the other half only show up to hand their TAs a thumb drive of PowerPoint slides. That my time would be better spent anywhere else, but especially on my thriving business. She doesn’t want to hear it.

The truth is, my parents have never been interested in what I have to say unless it’s something they’ve scripted themselves and forced me to read. In my father’s case, the daughter script is typically recited
during public events and accompanied by fake, beaming smiles aimed at his constituents.

“I want you to apply yourself, Mackenzie. A lady should be worldly and well educated.”

For appearances
is the unspoken part. Not for any practical purposes, but so the lady can carry on conversations at cocktail parties.

“Remember to enjoy yourself too. College is a seminal time in a young woman’s life. This is where you meet the people who will form your network for years to come. It’s important to build those relationships now.”

As far as Mom is concerned, I’m supposed to follow in her footsteps. I’m to become a glorified housewife who sits on all the right charity boards and throws parties to support her husband’s professional aspirations. I’ve stopped trying to argue the point with her, but that’s not the life I want, and eventually, hopefully, I’ll jump on another track and it’ll be too late for them to stop me.

For now, I play along.

“I know, Mom.”

“What about your roommate? What’s her name?”

“Bonnie. She’s from Georgia.”

“What’s her family name? What do they do?”

Because that’s what it always boils down to. Are they
someone
?

“Beauchamp. They own car dealerships.”

“Oh.” Another long, disappointed pause. “I suppose they do well with that.”

Meaning that if they can afford to put her in the same dorm room with me, they must not be dirt-poor.

I stifle a sigh. “I have to go, Mom. Got class in a few minutes,” I lie.

“Alright. Talk soon, sweetheart.”

I hang up and release the breath I was holding. Mom is a lot sometimes. She’s been heaping expectations and projecting herself
onto me for my entire life. Yes, we have our similarities—our looks, our tendency toward impatience, the work ethic she displays with her charities and I apply to my business and studies. But for as much as we’re similar, we’re still two different people with totally different priorities. It’s a concept she hasn’t grabbed onto yet, that she can’t mold me in her image.

“Hey, gorgeous.” Preston appears with a smile, looking fully healed from his basketball injury and bearing a small bouquet of pink snapdragons, which I suspect are missing from a flowerbed somewhere on campus.

“You’re in a good mood,” I tease as he pulls me from the bench and tugs me toward him.

Preston kisses me, wrapping me in his arms. “I like getting to see you more now that you’re here.”

His lips travel to my neck, where he plants a soft peck before playfully nipping my earlobe.

I try not to raise a brow, because normally he shuns all public displays. Most of the time, I’m lucky to get him to hold my hand. But he’s never been an overly physical boyfriend, and that’s something I’ve learned to accept about him. If anything, the lack of PDA is a plus, especially when we’re around our families. I realized at a young age that masking my emotions and repressing my occasional wild streak were necessary survival tools in our world.

“You ready?” he asks.

“Lead the way.”

It’s a beautiful day, if a little warm, as Pres guides me on a tour across the campus. Our first stop, of course, is Kincaid Hall, which houses the business school. Preston’s family is a legacy at Garnet, going back generations.

Pres laces his fingers through mine and leads us outside again. As we stroll down a tree-lined path toward the art school, I admire the passing scenery. The campus truly is beautiful. Redbrick buildings.
A great clock tower over the library. Sprawling green lawns and giant, majestic oak trees. I might not be enthused about college life, but at least everything is pretty to look at.

“What do you think of school so far?”

With Preston, I can be honest, so I sigh. “I’m bored out of my mind.”

He chuckles. “I was the same way as a freshman, remember? For the first couple years until you can start upper level courses, it’s pretty tedious.”

“At least you have a purpose.” We walk past the theater department, where students are in the parking lot, painting what looks to be an old-timey street set. “You need a certain level of education to work for your dad’s bank. There are expectations and requirements. But I already have my own business. I’m my own boss, and I don’t need to get a degree to prove anything to anyone.”

Smiling, Pres squeezes my hand. “That’s what I love about you, babe. You don’t wait for permission. You didn’t want to wait to grow up to become a tycoon.”

“See?” I say, beaming. “You get it.”

“But look, if you really want to keep working on your little tech thing in college, then think of Garnet as your incubator. There’s going to be lots of opportunities for you to grow your brand here.”

Huh. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Although I’m not in love with his phrasing—
my little tech thing?
—I realize he’s right.

“You make a good point there, Mr. Kincaid.” I stand on my tiptoes and kiss his clean-shaven cheek before ambling forward again.

Another reason Pres and I are well-suited to each other: We’re both business-minded people. Neither of us is enchanted by an artist’s idealism, or distracted by romantic notions of backpacking across Europe or hiking Machu Picchu. We’re products of our upbringing, and our cold blood runs blue. Two formidable, future heads of empires.

There’s a lot to be said for compatibility.

After we explore the art building and the small museum where student work is displayed, wander among the sculptures in the botanical gardens, and follow the footpath through the greenhouse and vegetable garden, Preston brings me around to his car.

“Come on, there’s something else I want to show you.” He opens the door for me, and I slide onto the sleek, leather passenger seat. He puts the top down on the silver Porsche convertible before we drive off.

It’s a short ride around the back of the campus, past the sports complex and up a hill, before we eventually reach a tall, circular building with a dome. The astronomy department’s telescope. Preston leads me to the side of the building, to a door that’s been propped open with a small wooden block.

“Are we supposed to be here?” I ask as we creep inside a narrow hallway that wraps around the circumference of the building.

“I know a guy.” Then Preston puts his index finger to his lips. “But no, not really.”

We follow the hallway to a metal staircase. On the second floor, we enter a room with computers along the wall and a massive telescope in the center, pointed to the sky through a wide slit in the roof.

“Oh, cool,” I say, walking toward the telescope.

Preston stops me. “That’s not what we came to see.”

Instead, he leads me to a door, then a ladder going up to the roof. We emerge onto a platform. From here, we can see the entire campus. Rolling green hills and white-topped buildings. Practically the whole town, all the way to the blue horizon of Avalon Bay. It’s spectacular.

“This is incredible,” I say, smiling at his thoughtfulness and ingenuity.

“It’s not a VIP tour without a bird’s-eye view.” Preston stands
behind me and wraps his arms around my waist. He kisses the side of my head as we appreciate the landscape together. “I’m really glad you’re here,” he says softly.

“Me too.”

Admittedly, things were slightly strained between us the last couple of years, while he was at college and I was stuck in high school. Doing the long-distance thing, even when we could see each other on weekends, was stressful. It took a lot of the fun out of our relationship. Today, though, I’m remembering how it was when we first started dating. How enamored of him I’d been, feeling like I’d won a prize, being chosen by an upperclassman.

Still, as Pres holds me against him and nuzzles my neck, a thought nudges its way into the back of my mind.

A very traitorous thought.

Of Cooper’s chiseled jaw and fathomless eyes. The way my pulse sped when he sat beside me and flashed that arrogant smile. I don’t get palpations when Preston walks into a room. My skin doesn’t tingle when he touches me. My thighs don’t clench, and my mouth doesn’t run dry.

Then again, those responses can be overrated. Too many hormones running rampant can cloud your judgment. I mean, look at the statistics—all those people who end up in a dysfunctional relationship because they base it on sex, not compatibility. Pres and I are right for each other. We get along well. We’re on the same trajectory. Our parents already approve, and it keeps everyone happy. I could play the field with a dozen Coopers and get my heart broken by every one. Why do that to myself?

There’s a lot to be said for knowing a good thing when you’ve got it.

“Thank you,” I tell Pres, turning in his arms to kiss him. “Today was perfect.”

But later that night, as I’m half watching Netflix in my room while doing my English Lit reading, a flutter of excitement races through me when Cooper’s name pops up on my phone. Then I remind myself to calm the fuck down.

Cooper:
Want to grab dinner?

Me:
I already ate.

Cooper:
Me too.

Me:
Then why’d you ask?

Cooper:
To see what you’d say.

Me:
So sneaky.

Cooper:
What are you doing?

Me:
Netflix and homework.

Cooper:
Is that code for something?

Me:
Busted.

Cooper:
I can’t even imagine what rich people porn is like.

BOOK: Good Girl Complex
6.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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